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Joella v. Cole

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 18, 2019

RONALD T. JOELLA Appellant
v.
ANNIE COLE

          Appeal from the Order Entered January 10, 2019 In the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County Civil Division at No(s): C-48-CV-2018-02349

          BEFORE: MURRAY, J., STRASSBURGER, J., and PELLEGRINI, J. [*]

          OPINION

          PELLEGRINI, J.

         Ronald T. Joella (Landlord) appeals from the order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County (trial court) denying his motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and granting the cross-motion for partial judgment on the pleadings filed by Annie Cole (Tenant). We affirm.

         We derive the following facts and procedural history from our independent review of the record. On March 19, 2018, Landlord filed a complaint against Tenant, a former tenant in a residential apartment building.[1]The complaint included one count for negligence alleging that Tenant's negligent use of an extension cord caused a fire resulting in extensive damage to Landlord's property ($180, 000.00). Specifically, Landlord averred that Tenant had run an extension cord across the hinges of a cabinet to a microwave, causing damage to the cord, which eventually ignited nearby combustibles. Tenant filed an answer with new matter raising affirmative defenses, including waiver and estoppel.

         Landlord then filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings requesting the court to dismiss the waiver and estoppel defenses. Tenant answered that motion and in turn filed a cross-motion for partial judgment on the pleadings requesting the court to make a finding that Landlord and his insurer are barred from recovering against Tenant for the fire loss at the property. She argued that pursuant to the language of the lease, Landlord was required to maintain fire insurance for her protection and that she was, therefore, an implied co-insured under Landlord's insurance policy.[2]

         The lease provides, in relevant part:

10.UTILITIES AND SERVICES.
* * *
Landlord shall be responsible for the following utilities and services in connection with the above premises: . . . Insurance on the building only
11. PROPERTY INSURANCE. Tenant has the right to maintain fire and casualty insurance on the premises to cover their personal possessions, which are not covered by the Landlord's fire insurance. They can talk to an insurance company concerning renters insurance to cover their interests.

(Real Estate Lease, at 1-2) (emphases added).

         After hearing arguments, the trial court denied Landlord's motion but granted Tenant's cross-motion, finding that Landlord could not maintain an action against Tenant in subrogation for property damage because under the terms of the lease, the reasonable expectation of the parties is that she would be an implied co-insured under Landlord's policy. Landlord then timely filed this appeal.[3]

         I.

         On appeal, Landlord contends that the trial court erred in finding that Tenant was an implied co-insured under Landlord's insurance policy. Before we address this issue, it is necessary to give some background of the various approaches of whether a landlord, through its ...


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